Portable Chef Blog: Tasty Licks

What is That Dust on the Bottom of a Thomas’ English Muffin?

This is a tale of deception, love, and intrigue. And breakfast.

As time goes on, I buy less and less stuff at supermarkets. In fact, the only thing I can think of that I still buy that you can only get at a conventional supermarket is the Thomas’ English Muffin.

If I’m going to have starchy white foods on the regular, they better kick some serious tush. Simply put, Thomas’ delivers the goods. Bread gives you something texturally that nothing else does, and Thomas’ English Muffins give you something texturally that few other breads do; toasted properly, no can defense.

But what the hell is that stuff they put on the bottom? I thought about it while watching Angela split a muffin in two a few days ago. Morning sunbeams illuminated a remarkably full cloud of tiny particles that were cascading onto the kitchen floor. You actually can’t handle a Thomas’ at all without these things flying off the bread; when I make two at a time, decades of experience have taught me that my first order of business has got to be to get above the sink and scrape the two together like I’m starting a fire.


Why Won’t My Milk Foam Up, Dammit?

I have an awesome milk provider.  Every weekend an Amish couple brings me raw milk, which would be illegal if it weren’t, um, for my pet; this stuff is a game-changer.  For the first time since 1985, I now sit down and have a glass of milk from time to time.  A straight-up glass of milk!

The biggest use we have for milk at Portable Chef Estates, though, is in cappuccinos (“cappuccini,” for the pedants among us, and I include myself in that crew).  Since receiving a Nespresso machine as a wedding gift, I’ve been on a pretty consistent four-cappuccinos-a-day habit.  The coffee’s very good but not the best by any stretch; what puts these machines over the top is how foolproof and effortless they make the process of making good coffee.  You turn it on, wait a few minutes, put in a pod of coffee, press a button, and that’s it: espresso.  To foam the milk, there’s a separate device, but just as easy: fill with milk to the line, press a button.  There’s no tamping, no cleaning, no nothing.  It is the best coffee you can make on a moment’s notice with such minimal effort.  And that’s worth a lot.

A key part of the cappuccino is the milk; a key part of the milk is the foam. Foam is what separates a cappuccino from a latte; while the foam-to-milk ratios vary from place to place, even among top-tier venues, a point of agreement is that a cappuccino is mostly foam; a latte is mostly milk.

Which made things very uncomfortable when one morning, my milk wouldn’t foam up.

It was one of the pretty frequent weeks in which my milk people didn’t deliver the goods; customer service is not the forte of the Amish. So I got a half-gallon of organic milk from the store, popped some in the milk frother, and started it up.

Nada. The milk frothed up just a little bit, and that foam disappeared as soon as the frother stopped moving around.

What gives? I did a little research.


This is How We Do It: Eggplant

NOTE: It’s come up several times in these pages that when it comes to cooking, technique is the thing. Being able to follow a recipe is a skill in and of itself and a very important one; however, at a certain point that method stops teaching you much. To go further, (more…)

The Godfather-Goodfellas Pasta Sauce Smackdown

I’m gonna go make the pasta, make the pasta

Of this there is no doubt: The Godfather and Goodfellas are the two best mob movies of all time. (NOTE: By The Godfather I mean the Godfather Parts I and II, which are parts of the same story and are both derived from the original Mario Puzo novel; the DVD of Part III, which I had to buy in order to get the first two films, is useful only for its present function: preventing the condensation emanating from my drink from ruining the table as I write).

But which of the two is top dog is a subject of much debate. Mainstream America has cast its vote: the user poll at the Internet Movie Database has Godfather as the #2 movie of all-time, with Goodfellasat #14. The #1 movie ever, as determined by us, the Internet-using public, made me do a double-take and I’ll bet it will make you do the same. Actually, take a second right now to guess what the best film of all-time is before clicking through to see it. America says you’re wrong.


The 2009 Beef Draft, pt. 3: Thoughts of Our Cow


This is the type of blog entry that I set out not to write.

The problem I have with many blogs is that they tend to be more for the writer than the reader. I’ve read too many whose authors use the forum work out their own issues, to describe their day, or to do a host of other things that have nothing to do with making the reader’s valuable time worthwhile.

That’s not what I want to do here. I aspire first and foremost to make this column an enjoyable and informative read for the people who choose to invest their time here. I want to be entertaining and educational, Fat Albert-style: Coming at you with cooking and fun. And if you’re not careful, you may learn something before it’s done. Hey, hey, hey! But I think this blog installment may develop a distinct “get some stuff off my chest” feel – if that’s how it reads I apologize in advance.


The Beef Draft is all about cooking and fun. But there is one particularly not fun part of the draft, and it would be unfair to gloss over it:

Today the steer we bought was slaughtered.


The 2009 Beef Draft, pt. 2: The Burger-off

And in this corner, weighing one pound...
And in this corner, weighing one pound...

portable_chef_beef_draft-smIn part 1 of this column, we went over the raisons d’être for the Beef Draft, chief among them being: ensuring a steady supply of sustainably-raised beef, learning something about our food, and IT’S A GODDAMN BEEF DRAFT!

Two providers met the criteria for responsible raising of cattle, capability to deliver on a whole steer, and ease of sampling: Arcadian Farms and 8 O’Clock Ranch.

Next up: a battle to the death.


The 2009 Beef Draft, pt. 1: Predraft Camp

Let’s do this thing

Ever since I found out that my favorite steak place, Les Halles on Park Avenue South, gives its animals the full factory farm treatment (warning: that video is gnarly; furthermore, it’s narrated by Alec Baldwin, whose authoritative, gravitas-laden voice makes it very difficult to turn away), I’ve pretty much limited my beef consumption to that which I prepare at home.

And it was there that I started realizing my beef knowledge limitations.

I’m a burger-and-occasional-filet man.  I make a big batch of boeuf Bourguignon once a year or so (side note: Amy Adams’ mangled pronunciation of said dish in the crappy half of Julie & Julia continues to haunt my dreams).  But really, that’s about it.